Bat Signal

Issue 351 – “The Cluemaster’s Topsy-Turvy Crimes!”

351

 

Hello everyone, welcome back to yet another installment of Bat Signal, my never-ending mission to read every single issue of Detective Comics ever published, in random order, and with basically no context. And, this week we’re given a very mixed bag of an issue to talk about. We get to see a bunch of characters who have largely been forgotten by the history of Batman, one that really only existed for about ten years due to weird fear-mongering, and one who is basically just an ineffectual ripoff of the Riddler.  But hey, at least we get to see Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson essentially get into a prank-war with a middle-aged lady, so that’s fun!

The story begins in Wayne Manor, when Aunt Harriet is cleaning things up. We’ve only talked about Aunt Harriet a few times over the years I’ve been doing this project, so I’ll give you a quick refresher. She’s Dick Grayson’s meddlesome middle-aged aunt, who comes to live with them and act as their housekeeper, instead of taking Dick in herself. She was sort of a replacement for Alfred, who got turned into a supervillain (long story) and really only existed because weird anti-comic book people though having the three men live together was some sort of coded homosexual mind control, or whatever ignorant things bigots believe. And, while Aunt Harriet is cleaning up the Manor, she ends up accidentally finding a hidden elevator. And, because she’s nosey, she ends up taking the elevator down, and discovers the Bat Cave. She’s obviously pretty shocked about this, and decides that she’s going to have to be sneaky about looking into Bruce and Dick’s personal life. So, she sneaks back up into the Manor, right as she hears the Batmobile returning. Bruce and Dick quickly realize that something is amiss, because they can smell Harriet’s perfume and see her footprints, so they decide to screw with her head. They somehow manage to quickly replace the elevator with a closet, and add a special device that makes it so the elevator will only work for them, not her. But, Harriet isn’t convinced, and has some tricks up her sleeve.

 

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And, it turns out that her next scheme is utterly insane. Because she has apparently placed wet pitch along all the major streets around Wayne Manor, trying to find where the secret entrance the Batmobile uses is. Luckily, the Batmobile apparently has a hydrofoil on it, so they simply activate that and essentially fly over the pitch, foiling Aunt Harriet. The Dynamic Duo then go about their regularly scheduled patrols, where they quickly find some action. Because they come across some men running out of a bank that they’ve clearly just robbed, one of whom is wearing a ridiculous outfit. So, Batman and Robin stop in order to fight the crooks, and learn that their leader is calling himself Cluemaster. And, right as Batman and Robin are getting out of the Batmobile the Cluemaster throws some sort of phosphorous bomb at them, which temporarily blinds them, but they manage to fight through it, and start brawling the goons. But, as the fight progresses the Cluemaster throws out a smoke bomb that distracts Batman and Robin while Cluemaster and his men flee into a nearby building.

Batman and Robin chase after them, and end up somehow losing them in the building. But, they do come across a mysterious clue, which appears to be a bunch of men wearing the big Buckingham Palace hats. They then head home to study the clue, which is exactly what Cluemaster wanted. Because that flash bomb he set off earlier also coated the Batmobile with some sort of radiation, which they’re going to use to track the Batmobile back to its hideout. But they lose track of the Batmobile when Batman and Robin ended up using that hydrofoil again to foil Aunt Harriet, causing the tracks to vanish. Bruce and Dick then sit down in the Bat Cave and puzzle over the Cluemaster’s little clue. And, they don’t get anything from it. So, the next day they head out on patrols, looking for the Cluemaster, and end up coming across a convention center that’s hosting an exhibit of Arabian artifacts, which is supposed to open the next day. But, there appears to be people inside, so they go check, and sure enough come across Cluemaster and his goons.

 

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Batman and Robin race towards the Cluemaster, and immediately fall into a trap, sliding down into some sort of little cell with a glow-in-the-dark clue that appears to be a sea monster. But, weirdly, we just cut straight back to the Batcave from here, with Batman and Robin puzzling over the strange image. And, while messing with it, they realize that if they hold it upside down it’s a duck. Which makes them think to turn the previous clue upside down, which turns out to point them to that Arabian exhibit, which they just happened to stumble upon at the right time. It’s all very weird, and they head back up into the Manor, only to find a secret camera that Aunt Harriet placed took a photo of them. They clearly don’t want Harriet to get a picture of them coming out of a supposed closet, so they go develop the photos to alter them.

But, when they do that they find that the photos have been ruined, in a manner that could only be accomplished by radiation. They then test the Batcave, and find that the duck drawing is radioactive, which they assume the Cluemaster is using to track them. So, they decide to use the prank-skills they’ve been developing. They take the Batmobile out and park it in a random cave far away from them, then use their make-up prowess to disguise themselves, waiting for the Cluemaster’s goons to show up. And, sure enough, they spot someone coming to take pictures of them, and manage to follow the guy back to Cluemaster’s hideout. The Dynamic Duo then burst into the room, and start fighting Cluemaster and his goons, arresting him. And, with the villain taken care of, they then spend time manipulating photographs to make a fake picture of Batman and Robin meeting Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson to throw Aunt Harriet off their trail, the real point of the story.

 

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I don’t know folks, this story just doesn’t do much for me. A big part is honestly the inclusion of the Cluemaster, a villain that does less than nothing for me. I love the Riddler, I’ve been quite open about that, and the Cluemaster just seems like a less fleshed out version of the Riddler. His whole scheme, which was to figure out who Batman really is and then kill him when he’s got his defenses down, really isn’t that unique or ground-breaking of a concept, but he certainly treats it like it is, all while putting out weird little clues that are so obtuse Batman and Robin solve them by accident, and it doesn’t even impact the plot! But, the real draw of the story is the weird side-plot, where Bruce and Dick are just concocting a series of ludicrous ways to screw with Aunt Harriet’s mind. I don’t care for Aunt Harriet, she’s a weird character who exists for very strange reasons, but if this issue had just been 16 pages of Batman and Robin utilizing Bruce Wayne’s fortune in increasingly frivolous ways to throw Aunt Harrient off their trail, I would have been so happy. As it stands, this is just a weird little story that doesn’t work all that well. But, so it goes.

 

“The Cluemaster’s Topsy-Turvey Crimes!” was written by Gardner Fox, penciled by Carmine Infantino, inked by Sid Greene, lettered by Joe Lettrese, and edited by Julius Schwartz, 1966.

 

 

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